Kazakh Kindling

Recently, I was recruited by the World Bank to prepare and conduct a training module on Partnerships and Networking for an audience that comprised "project leaders" of research ideas which have received funding from the National Innovation Fund and managers from different ministries. Preparing content for places that are yet to take their place in the sun, so to speak, is challenging. This is not meant to be condescending; in fact it is refreshing and liberating to express simply and clearly what has become dense and meaningless jargon. The topic itself is at the heart of, or should be central to, any national effort to cultivate and encourage entrepreneurs. We designed the session to be in two parts: interactive-instruction (on topics of practical interest involving what's going on, the so-called landscape of innovation, trends in partnering, considerations on development of an offering, approaches to partners, etc.), and group projects. Three groups each formed teams around a specific project funded in Kazakhstan, involving an innovation derived from research. The charge to the groups was to develop a case for partnering, nominate tasks and activities to further this case, identify specific partners and discuss possible strategies and outcomes.

I, for one, was heartened by the short presentations, and as much by the critiques provided by the others on each group's offering. These people were hardly exposed to a thriving entrepreneurial ecosystem, but they were inclined to take nothing for granted, and to ask simple questions that proved difficult to answer and even harder to resist. Now if only they can be served by an equal dose of imagination and daring by policymakers and program developers in the country, we can expect to see Kazakhstan, so isolated in people's estimation, become something of a gem. The country already suffers from a bounty of riches: oil, gas, rare earth minerals, etc. If its people resources are further developed, it could be a shining star in a region not known for much beyond heavy-handedness.